Is the Mumbai Police going on an overdrive to foil any possibility of a political unrest — a la the Kanhaiya Kumar and Rohith Vemula uproar — at campuses of higher education?
TISS students have often been vocal in their protest against various issues, including the construction of a nuclear plant in Jaitapur. File pic
Zone 6 of the city police — the area that covers prominent educational institutes like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Vivekananda College, Vasantdada Patil College of Engineering, and Somaiya medical and engineering colleges, have launched a drive to collect data on campus size, the number of buildings, the nature of courses as well as the number of students and the faculty.
The Mumbai Police has launched a campus data collection drive in zone 6, which covers the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. FILE PIC
Deputy Commissioner of Police Shahaji Umap hinted that the drive is part of pre-emptive measures against campus unrests.
“Political unrest on campuses and the growing demand for bringing back student elections certainly raise a few security concerns. Having basic information on educational institutes will help law enforcement agencies handle security issues in an appropriate manner. But, this is not the only reason behind the drive,” he said.
While Deepak Nanda (left), former president of the students’ union, believes that such surveillance will eat into the institutions’ autonomy, DCP Umap (right) says it will help the police handle security issues aptly
Why not all colleges?
While the police claim that the drive is for students’ safety and to maintain law and order in the area, students from TISS and other nearby colleges believe that it is a fallout of the Kanhaiya and Rohit Vemula episodes. Students and the faculty of TISS and several other colleges in Mumbai had come out in support of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya, who had lashed out at the BJP-led central government for forcing its ideology on citizens, and Rohit Vemula, a Dalit scholar of Hyderabad Central University whose suicide had become the rallying point against caste discrimination in educational institutes.
Deepak Nanda, president of the students’ union, TISS, in 2015-16, alleged that the real motive behind the drive is to “suppress” voices of dissent. “If ensuring security is the objective, all the colleges in the city should be brought under surveillance. Why has this area alone been chosen? As an institution of social sciences, we will question arbitrary stands taken by the government on different issues. We represent the voices that have been suppressed. Putting our voices under surveillance is dangerous to academic freedom.”
Kanhaiya’s visit to a school in Tilak Nagar this April as part of a drive to mobilise support against the central government had set the Mumbai Police on the edge.
Although Aniket Ovhal, head of the Mumbai unit of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, agreed that the police interference was unwelcome, he tried to downplay the fear. “According to the Maharashtra Universities Act, police officials cannot enter campuses of education unless they are called for help by the administrative authorities from the campus. With pressure coming from all sections to bring back student elections, this might be a test by police authorities to know which groups are strong on which campuses and what activities are happening. Instead of being so secretive, the police can be vocal about their objective,” he said.
No malice: TISS director
TISS director S Parsuraman refuted allegations of police surveillance. He said the TISS administration has been alert enough to request police officials to make the rounds of the institute and its vicinity to ensure that there are no “hooligans” around. “But the objective is purely to ensure the safety and the security of students and the staff on campus; nothing more. We work closely with the Mumbai Police on several social issues and several security professionals are our students, too.”
He said the institute’s security staff is well equipped to handle dire situations and the police can get all the information on the institute from its website. “There is nothing more to add to that information. If more details are required, there is an option to file an RTI application.”
Dr Rajendra Sawant, Vasantdada Patil College
It is an academic institution. Police interference is not required inside. If they need such information, they need to arrive with an appropriate objective for it.
Dr Jayashree Phadnis, Vivekananda College
The police took details such as students’ strength, infrastructure and security arrangements. But we are not clear about the objective. If the local police are taking extra efforts to ensure better security on campuses, it is our duty to share details with them. In the present situation, when the government is looking at bringing back student elections, campuses can witness turbulence.